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The parent-child relationship is the most influential relationship in a child’s social development. From the earliest age, children look toward their parents for guidance on how to respond to the world around them. Before a child can even walk or talk they are able to observe facial features, notice a change in parental body language and they can hear the difference in tone of voice. Parents have a responsibility to not only teach their child proper social behavior but also model that behavior in the home. Social development continues throughout each stage of a child’s life.
Early Childhood Development
The foundation of interpersonal relationships start with a child’s own emotions. By knowing how to express their emotions properly, a child can build healthy relationships. Parents who validate their children’s emotions and show them empathy have children who grow up to do the same. A child who feels like their emotions matter, whether they are sad, angry, happy, excited, etc. will be more likely to value the emotions of their friends.
Toddlers are also the best copy cats. They learn most by what they see. “Imitation is vital to the development of abilities ranging from language to social skills,” explains Lisa Nalven, M.D., a developmental and behavioral pediatrician. A parent who is easily angered by situations or loses their temper frequently, tend to have children who do the same. The reverse is also true, a parent who can stay calm in a tough situation and show coping skills, such as deep breathing or talking about how they feel, will have a child that can do the same.
Their own emotions are hard for a toddler to understand, by acknowledging their emotions as valid, reassuring them that they have the right to feel that way and giving them ways to cope with their feelings, sets the child up for lasting, healthy relationships in the future.
There is a shift in the role a parent plays in the social development of their child by the time they enter elementary school. The foundation for emotional understanding was set in the toddler years and now your child is learning how to interpret others emotions while managing his or her own to build lasting relationships.
Parents can still have an influence over their children’s social skills by giving them healthy strategies to help when dealing with problems they may be facing, for example, a child is fighting with a good friend, and they speak to the parent about the problem. Here, the parent has the ability to acknowledge their child’s feels as valid but is also given the opportunity to suggest healthy options to fixing the problem without giving the answers. Maybe starting with the statement, “I can see why you are upset.” Eventually this can lead to, “How do you think ____ feels?” and, “Do you think there is any way to let ____ know how you feel once you’ve calmed down?”
The most volatile social situations happen for a child during adolescence. Peer pressure is at its worst during this time and a child without strong social skills is more likely to give in to such pressures. Even a child with good social skills due to strong parenting, can make a decision that could lead to something such as teen pregnancy.
Studies show that teens that become parents have children that grow up lacking in social skill. According to The Urban Child Institute, “When a baby is born to a teenage mother, he is likely to have more difficulty acquiring social and emotional skills like self-control and self-confidence.” Often times, teen parents may consider newborn adoption options in order to give their child a better chance at a life that offers them more opportunity for personal growth and financial security.
Parents are the most important tool in their child’s social development. They set the foundation their children will follow throughout their lives.